Todd Haynes‘ May December, which I saw late last night, struck me as awkward and even silly at times. Haynes tries for a tone that mixes satiric whimsy and overheated emotional spillage while channeling Bergman’s Persona, but scene after scene and line after line hit me the wrong way.
It’s about a famous actress, Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman), paying a visit to the pricey Savannah home of Gracie Atherton (Julianne Moore), a somewhat neurotic and brittle 60something who runs a dessert-cooking business. Elizabeth’s plan is to study Gracie as preparation for a soon-to-shoot film about her once-turbulent life, which involved a scandalous sexual affair with a minor and a subsequent prison term. Elizabeth naturally wants her forthcoming portrayal to deliver something truthful, etc.
For her part Gracie is cool with the arrangement but at the same time a wee bit conflicted and anxious. She’s calculated that she’ll come off better in the film if she invites the pissing camel into the tent**.
Seemingly modelled on the late Mary Kay Letourneau, a former school teacher who was prosecuted and jailed for seduced a 13 year-old boy, Gracie is married to Joe Yoo (Charles Melton), a 36 year-old half-Korean dude who was also 13 when Gracie technically “raped” him while they were working together at a pet store, and with whom they now have two or three kids. (This is one of those films in which the exact number of kids in a given family is of no interest to anyone…zip.)
If I didn’t have a Salle Debussy screening of Karim Ainouz‘s Firebrand breathing down my neck, I would list the eight or nine things that especially bothered me last night. Suffice that my basic reaction was one of exasperation. I literally threw up my hands and loudly exhaled three or four times. I groaned at least twice. I’m pretty sure I muttered “Jesus!” a couple of times. I also recall slapping my thigh.
For what it’s worth Letourneau and Fualaau insisted from the get-go that their relationship was consensual; ditto Gracie and Jo in May December‘s backstory. After serving her prison term Letourneau married Fualaau and soon after had kids with him; same deal with Moore and Melton’s pretend couple.
** Exact Lyndon Johnson quote: “It’s better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”